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When Together Doesn’t Work

Welcome to the March 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Tough Conversations

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have spoken up about how they discuss complex topics with their children. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Excuse me a bit of meta for a moment before we jump right into this.

When I get the email for this month’s Carnival of Natural Parenting, I do what I usually do: “Oh, I wonder what the topic is this month.” A lot of times its not something I feel terribly qualified to discuss. Sometimes it just doesn’t interest me. But this month’s topic? Tough Conversations.

If you’re new here, about a month ago my husband and I decided to separate. Its all very confusing right now; sometimes it seems absolute that we’re going to get divorced, and sometimes we each have individual glimmers of hope that when we start counseling, it could work.

It’s even more confusing for our four-year-old, who is too smart for my own good. We had hoped he wouldn’t notice anything was wrong.

I’m going to spoil the end of the post for you: we still haven’t found the right way to help Miles understand what’s happening to our family, especially when we can’t even explain it to ourselves. All I have so far are snapshots of how we’ve tried to explain it to him.

We tried to leave him out of it, as best we could. Whatever else happens in our relationship, the goal is to make it as stable and non-disruptive as possible for him. Except for a couple early slips, we don’t fight or talk badly about each other in front of him. But it didn’t work to keep him out of it, either.

Things were strained in our household for a while before we decided to break up, but they weren’t… terrible. When it came to the three of us the family unit was fine. So when it all exploded very messily, when Andy and I spent about a week alternating between being utterly unable to see each other and having these strained talks in the other room, Miles responded with equal upset. He got clingier. He got emotionally fragile.

When I write this, the split is about two weeks old — still rather young. The dust is finally settling. While Miles has calmed, and started to understand a little better, it’s still not easy. “Together” has become a very prominent word in his vocabulary.

That first week, after the anger of the weekend had calmed, Miles asked some question. I don’t remember what it was, but I looked to Andy for an answer. He says, “Mommy and Daddy are going to be spending some time apart.” It’s too soon to say we don’t love each other anymore. I’m not sure he’d respond well to that sort of phrasing anyway.

“Why?” This is all the child asks these days.

I try: “Right now its just hard for Mommy and Daddy to do things together. We love to do things with you, though.”

He fixes me with this deadpan snarky scowl that is 100% his father’s and says, “Mommy, its not hard.”


I took him with me to coffee with some girlfriends one day, and struggled to try to vent my feelings without breaking the “I will not talk badly about Andy in front of Miles.” I never want to be that woman, that mother. Ever.

Toward the end of the visit he reaches up and grabs my face so that we’re nose-to-nose. “Mommy, you need to stop ignoring me and pay attention.”

For a couple days, during the days we were trying to talk above him and around corners from him, this was his go to phrase. It stopped us in our tracks each time. We were getting so wrapped up in our own nonsense at every hour, and it was terribly unfair.

Our unofficial arrangement (because nothing is official these days) is that I take care of Miles during the day, when Andy works, and Andy takes him in the evening when he’s home. When I move out, this’ll be the best way to keep Miles at ease, we think. Except we still live together for now, so its… complex. Sometimes I go out after dinner, just so Miles can get used to the idea of being alone with Andy on a regular basis.

“Mommy, you are going for a car ride?”

I button my coat. “Yeah, I’m going out for a bit.”

“I will come with you! We will all go together!”

It’s objectively more heartbreaking, the way he looks between the two of us when he says together. I clear my throat. “No, sweetie, you get to play with Daddy tonight.”

He starts to cry. “I will come with you. Don’t go, Mommy. I need you.”

“I love you, Miles. Have fun with your daddy.” Andy has to pick him up so he won’t chase me out the door.

I can hear him crying from the parking lot.

Its hard to think that this is something we’re doing to him, because we can’t make it work. I have to remind myself (a lot) that we can’t force ourselves to be a family for him. That he deserves two parents in safe, stable spaces — not the mess we’ve made of our home.

Still, we start to make a point of doing small things together — grocery store trips and out to get dinner. While he still talks about being together a lot, it seems to satisfy some of that impulse.

One day in the car, he suddenly says, “We are all getting older together!”

I quip to my husband, “At least its something we can do together.”

Miles snuggled on the couch

He’s a little sick, a little tired from all this disrupt to his daily life. Andy and Miles are curled up on the couch, and I’m sitting at the table behind them. Miles curls against Andy, and I reach over to stroke his hair.

He grabs my hand, so I leave it there. Sometimes I even miss the proximity to Andy, and for a little bit it feels sort of normal.

Its the calmest he is all week.

Its my weekend to take Miles, the second weekend where we split it up so he actually experiences an entire weekend away from a parent. We’re snuggled on the couch talking about our plans for the day and the impending car trip. I try to explain, “We’re going to see Josh & Ann, but Daddy is going to stay here while we go.”

“But why?”

“Well, Mommy and Daddy are going to start doing more things apart. So sometimes you’ll spend time with Mommy, and sometimes you’ll spend time with Daddy. But we won’t all be together all the time.”

He pauses. I think for a moment maybe he understands a little, as much as he needs to at four. His voice shakes a little. “But we have to be together. We are getting older together.”

I’m not going to cry in front of him. He doesn’t need more of that nonsense.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon March 12 with all the carnival links.)

  • A Difficult Conversation — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is keeping her mouth shut about a difficult topic.
  • Discussing Sexuality and Objectification With Your Child — At Authentic Parenting, Laura is puzzled at how to discuss sexuality and objectification with her 4-year-old.
  • Tough Conversations — Kadiera at Our Little Acorn knows there are difficult topics to work through with her children in the future, but right now, every conversation is a challenge with a nonverbal child.
  • Real Talk — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama explains why there are no conversation topics that are off limits with her daughter, and how she ensures that tough conversations are approached in a developmentally appropriate manner.
  • From blow jobs to boob jobs and lots of sex inbetweenMrs Green talks candidly about boob jobs and blow jobs…
  • When Together Doesn’t Work — Ashley at Domestic Chaos discusses the various conversations her family has had in the early stages of separation.
  • Talking To Children About Death — Luschka at Diary of a First Child is currently dealing with the terminal illness of her mother. In this post she shares how she’s explained it to her toddler, and some of the things she’s learned along the way.
  • Teaching 9-1-1 To Kids — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling talks about the importance of using practical, age-appropriate emergency scenarios as a springboard for 9-1-1 conversations.
  • Preschool Peer PressureLactating Girl struggles to explain to her preschooler why friends sometimes aren’t so friendly.
  • Frank Talk — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis unpacks a few conversations about sexuality that she’s had with her 2-year-old daughter, and her motivation for having so many frank discussions.
  • When simple becomes tough — A natural mum manages oppositional defiance in a toddler at Ursula Ciller’s Blog.
  • How Babies are Born: a conversation with my daughter — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger tries to expand her daughter’s horizons while treading lightly through the waters of pre-K social order.
  • Difficult Questions & Lies: 4 Reasons to Tell The Truth — Ariadne of Positive Parenting Connection shares the potential impact that telling lies instead of taking the time to answer difficult questions can have on the parent-child relationship.
  • Parenting Challenges–when someone dies — Survivor at Surviving Mexico writes about talking to her child about death and the cultural challenges involved in living in a predominantly Catholic nation.
  • Daddy Died — Breaking the news to your children that their father passed away is tough. Erica at ChildOrganics shares her story.
  • Opennesssustainablemum prepares herself for the day when she has to tell her children that a close relative has died.
  • Embracing Individuality — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy addressed a difficult question in public with directness and honesty.
  • Making the scary or different okay — Although she tries to listen more than she talks about tough topics, Jessica Claire of Crunchy-Chewy Mama also values discussing them with her children to soften the blow they might cause when they hit closer to home.
  • Talking to My Child About Going Gluten Free — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama concluded that her family would benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet, she came up with a plan to persuade her gluten-loving son to find peace with the change. This is how they turned the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle into an adventure rather than a hardship.
  • How Does Your Family Explain Differences and Approach Diversity? — How do you and your family approach diversity? Gretchen of That Mama Gretchen shares her thoughts at Natural Parents Network and would like to hear from readers.
  • Discussing Difficult Topics with Kids: What’s Worked for Me — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares parenting practices that enabled discussions of difficult topics with her (now-adult) children to be positive experiences.
  • Tough Conversations — Get some pointers from Jorje of Momma Jorje on important factors to keep in mind when broaching tough topics with kids.
  • Protect your kids from sneaky people — Lauren at Hobo Mama has cautioned her son against trusting people who’d want to hurt him — and hopes the lessons have sunk in.
  • Mommy, What Does the Bible Say? — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work works through how to answer a question from her 4-year-old that doesn’t have a simple answer.
  • When All You Want for Them is Love: Adoption, Abandonment, and Honoring the Truth — Melissa at White Noise talks about balancing truth and love when telling her son his adoption story.

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  • Rosemary

    Oh, sweet friend… My heart breaks for you. When I went through my divorce, it was all-encompassing and gut-wrenching. I can only imagine how much harder it is to watch your child work through such big life changes with you both. I will be praying for all three of your hearts, for grace and wisdom as you navigate this new season together. *bighugs*

    • http://www.domesticchaos.com Ashley

       Thank you. It is at times so totally consuming, that I feel like I’ll never have energy for anything else. I think its been most important for me to remember that I can’t stop being a mom — I’ve got to compartmentalize my feelings about my marriage from my feelings about motherhood, when the two have been so wrapped up in my head up to this point.

  • http://twitter.com/CodeNameMama Dionna Ford

    Hugs to you, mama. Kieran has a friend whose parents split last year, and I know her parents made sure to do what you’re doing. She is thriving! Your son will be too.
    ~Dionna @ CodeNameMama.com

    • http://www.domesticchaos.com Ashley

      Thank you. :)

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  • Camille Flores

    Finding what you need as individuals, as a couple and as a family is never easy.  But remember, this too shall pass.  

    • http://www.domesticchaos.com Ashley

       Yeah — I try to focus on the benefits to us being apart, and how much better each individual space will be for Miles, versus the tense and unhappy space we currently inhabit together. I’d like to think that in the end, it’ll help him be better about relationships than we’ve been.

  • Theadventuresoflactatinggirl

    I am so sorry that you’re going through this. I wish I could help in any way, but I don’t think even someone who’s gone through a separation could give you the perfect advice for you and your son. I just hope that you come to some resolution that works for all of you, whether it be married or divorced. <3

    • http://www.domesticchaos.com Ashley

       Thanks. <3 Its not an easy thing to comment on, even. Its funny, because sometimes the difference between great advice and terrible advice is entirely my mood — when I'm at a really low angry or sad point, all advice sounds trite.

      (That sait, by far the worst outside commentary I got was, "You both messed up so bad, maybe you can just clean slate it and start fresh," lol.)

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  • http://www.authenticparenting.info/ Laura @authenticparenting

    Oh wow, this is hard. My husband and I hit a rough patch when my depression was at its lowest and there was talk of divorce. My daughter is a very sensitive and understanding 4Yo and she figured out things weren’t going great. We did tell her then that mom and dad were having a hard time living with each other and that we were trying to work out how to go from there, but that we would involve her if we would come to a decision.

    • http://www.domesticchaos.com Ashley

       I’m sorry to hear about you and your husband — especially in the midst of depression, that’s a lot to deal with. <3

  • http://little-willa-lamb.blogspot.com Amy Willa

    Oh, wow. This is so hard for you and your little boy! I’ll keep you all in my prayers as you navigate this difficult time! Thanks for writing!

    • http://www.domesticchaos.com Ashley

       Thank you. :D

  • hobomama

    Oh, Ashley. Huge hugs to you and your little one. It sounds like you’re doing everything to ease his transition — it’s just such a tough one, and there’s no way but through.

    • http://www.domesticchaos.com Ashley

       Thanks. I’m glad that we’ve hit a space where we can talk about it with some sense of rationality, as opposed to when it was still so raw. While I don’t think he’s really much closer to understanding how our life is changing (I don’t think he really will until I’ve moved out), I also don’t feel like he’s going to be totally blindsided by it.

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  • http://twitter.com/LvanO DiaryofaFirstChild

    This was gut wrenching to read, to a large part because I face this question in myself all the time. I know where we’re at can’t last, and I dread the day I have to have the conversation.  In a sense this post makes me feel almost more determined to TRY to fix things, one last time, for what feels like the millionth time. :/

    • http://www.domesticchaos.com Ashley

      I’m so sorry to hear you’re having problems, and hope that you come to a place of peace, regardless of which way you go. <3

      Its strange, because there were really only a few tense weeks before we decided that we needed to separate — up to that point, I thought the marriage was fine and I was the problem. (Really, right up to when I proposed separating, I believed that.) it was all the lies and stuff that came out after we separated that made it messy and bad.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/kameshinjite Kagi Soracia

    I think it’s okay to cry in front of your kids, at least sometimes…my clearest memories of my mother in the years when I was struggling to deal with the fact that my parents had issues (even though they ended up staying together, which I think was detrimental to the whole family as well as themselves – they still haven’t worked things out, 20 years later, and they are both miserable.) But it was times when I inadvertantly reacted to her in the same ways my dad did, dismissing her or yelling at her and she went to find a place to cry for a bit, and I found her and realised it was my fault; I remember feeling so stricken and realising that my mother wasn’t just this invulnerable force she seemed to me as a child, but an actual person, with feelings that I could hurt just like mine were. It was when I started realising that Daddy and Mommy weren’t always right, and there were hard choices to make for myself that I had to learn. Miles is probably too young for that yet, and there’s definitely no easy answers, but I don’t think that letting him see your tears sometimes (not all the time, maybe, I know it’s a lot to deal with) and that you, too, are sad about not being ‘together’ anymore is necessarily a bad thing.

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